088. David Banks: Endurance challenges, performance art, and recovery

Episode summary

David Banks LINK (250)

Is parkour about athleticism, or performance art? To David Banks, it is both at once. He shares his movement journey and inspirations, from martial arts to parkour to drama. David unpacks some of his projects, including the Movement Card and his various charity endurance challenges. He discusses performance art and how it relates to his parkour practice, and reflects on injury and recovery.

David Banks is an artist and mover from Glasgow, Scotland. As a co-founder of the company Ukemi, he merges his background in art and parkour by creating projects that encourage play, improve health, and make movement accessible in urban areas. David has been a part of various projects through Ukemi, collaborating on Youth Urban Games festival and creating the Ukemi card game.

Highlight [0:00]

David: There’s nothing braver than getting on the stage with one thing, and as someone that preforms across the spectrum of performance, performance art has always been one that for me has that pull of the rawest form of performing, in the same way that I think parkour is the rawest form of efficient movement, in the same way I think mixed martial arts is the rawest form of fighting.

Introduction [0:29]

Childhood role of movement [1:59]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • He wanted to be Spiderman, Neo, Goku, and various Final Fantasy characters.
  • Got a Spiderman costume as a child, and basically lived in it. Decided he wanted to be Spiderman, and that led to movement. Learned boxing, parkour, and wanted to be a vigilante.
  • Realized that often that victimizes vulnerable parts of society, and instead focused on the story, narrative of superheroes.
  • Specific inspirations: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris. Martial arts teacher, Marc Howes of team Jigoku; old school style, huge inspiration.
  • Built mental toughness, but also had softness and artistry.
  • Learned more than just martial arts from him.
David: I wanted to be Spider-Man, then I wanted to be Neo and Jigoku and various Final Fantasy characters. I would say mainly the major influence I had on my life is I got a Spider-Man costume when I was about six or seven years old and I'd recently gone through a little bit of a trauma, and I refused to take the Spider-Man costume off. So my mum had to buy me another one and sneak me in it, and I didn't take it off for weeks. I decided at that point, "I'm going to become Spider-Man."
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That led me down the path of movement, I realized. For me, my parkour practice is I want to be able to escape, reach, attack and defend. So I pursued boxing, I had boxing fights, MMA fights, and have done quite a lot in my parkour practice. As I got a little bit older, I actually did once, I was going about here in Glasgow in a superhero costume underneath my clothes, like ready to fight crime. I went down to Manchester to meet another guy that was doing it, but then I realized that a lot of that was victimizing a certain type of crime, and I felt that the idea and the role of the superhero in practicality in the street often just victimizes the most vulnerable people in society. So upon reflection of that, I realized that what I liked about these characters, apart from the movement qualities, was the story and the express of it within it, so then all the things were linking up at the time anyway and that’s where I get a lot of my performance practice from. All linked in from that movement, I wanted to be Spider-Man, I wanted to move like him, I wanted to fight like him. Then I wanted to entertain like him, finally.

Life transitions [8:22]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Moved to Glasgow when he turned 18, wanted a bigger parkour scene.
  • Excited to meet people and be part of that culture (knew people through the forum).
  • Glasgow’s opportunities for arts and culture were huge.
  • Moving allowed him to grow, change, and redefine himself. Movement changes reflected; went to the Royal Conservatory to learn drama, and learned dance.
  • Impacted his movement style, more flow. Larger parkour scene also allowed for growth.

Movement Card project [11:39]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Movement Card project
  • The idea related to the law in Scotland; loose laws around trespassing and free movement.
  • People will still call the cops, but technically parkour is not against the law anywhere.
  • The movement card explains the laws and rights (originally Scotland), to show people who are trying to get you to leave.
  • It also links to the website, a database of laws and rights of movement globally. The goal is so that people can also use it to point to precedent and try to change their laws.
  • Currently in several different countries, and working on expanding and working with Parkour Earth.

Charity endurance events [16:28]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • 8 mile cat crawl: the beginning of David’s endurance events: started as a fundraising effort for Haiti earthquake.
  • Did it in January, in hail and snow; injured himself while doing it, made 8 miles (but wanted it to be a half-marathon).
  • All the fundraising was done on the spot, engaging with onlookers.
  • Became depressed afterwards, because he hadn’t completed the full half-marathon, couldn’t help more people.
  • Let to deciding to do another event that had a definitive ending: London Marathon, but on stilts.
  • There is always an external stimulus; some type of fundraising, a cause that he holds onto.
  • Rail Marathon to raise money for parkour programs supporting mental health.
  • Couldn’t do it because of injury, but it became a group event.
  • 34 people in 12 countries did a mile, and raised money for it.
  • Looking like it will become an annual event. David’s attempt will still happen, but probably more of a performance art.

Performance and theater [26:07]

  • That is part of the culture, and an important part; what makes it similar to performance art for David.
  • What he really loves about it. Nothing braver than getting on a stage with the purist form of a thing.
  • He loves performance art because of what it is; watching something and reflecting on it, and himself.
  • Not usually how he performs, though. Tends to be more flashy, circus, crazy things.
  • He performs often in parkour crossover shows, with theater, dance, etc. But many have the same themes; freedom, breaking away from the ‘normal.’
  • Also performers often get taken advantage of. David wants to create a parkour show for and by parkour practitioners.
  • Specific to parkour spots, parkour people, and about parkour.
  • Exploring different aspects of parkour, interactive with the audience, scrapbooks of the moment.
  • Explaining parkour without ever explaining it.

David: I am not about to define parkour, so I’m not going to do it. Okay? The reason being is we have a beautiful discipline that escapes this 21st century encyclopedia style knowledge. No one quite knows what it is, and that is great. As soon as we know what parkour is, I’ll probably do something else. It’s important for me that we all disagree about what it is, and it creates a culture. There should be the specs, the foundations of course, but that’s just where I stand about it. So this purest form of movement or image in parkour, I have that feeling with fighting, I get that feeling when I watch someone sprint. When I watch things like performance art, isn’t this big huge two-hour spectacle with lights and confetti and dance numbers and jazz hands, it’s taking an idea and reducing it to its purest form in a single image.

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David: I’m aware that if you’re not into that sort of thing, you might see pictures of it and it misses the mark, but for me, there’s nothing braver than getting on the stage with one thing. As someone that performs across the spectrum of performance, and performance art has always been one that for me has that pull of the rawest form of performing, and the same with I think parkour is the rawest form of efficient movement, in the same way I think mixed martial arts is the rawest form of fighting. So I’m very much into those worlds for those very reasons. I say with the performance thing …

Craig: I said, do you have a favorite type of performance that you do? Do you prefer to do the performance yourself, or do you prefer to be engaged in enabling the performance? You participate, but you really like is seeing the performance happen? What’s the thing that draws you the most in there?

David: I particularly like watching duration work, so for those that don’t know, that might be a performance that might last six hours, 12 hours. You’re welcome to come and go as you wish. I like the time to think, I like to just sit and look at that image and let my mind wander. I think a lot of people might get the same benefit if they’re very into galleries and looking at paintings. When you [crosstalk 00:29:33] these works, you’re thinking about yourself. You can just let go of how maybe “weird” it might seem, and just sit and think for a while.

David: How often can you go into a space where you can enter and leave, no one’s on their phone and everyone’s just sitting silently and watching a central focal point? So I think the meditative aspects of it, the reflective aspects of it, and also my respect for the artist are the things that draw me towards that. Ironically, most things like performing are in complete contrast to that. So I’ve performed across quite a large spectrum, I’ve danced classically with Scottish Opera, I teach with Scottish Ballet. Mainly parkour stuff, not ballet. Not because I don’t do ballet or practice ballet, but I wouldn’t want to disrespect the phenomenal dancers in that company. I performed in the circus, I’ve performed as an actor.

David: So the two ways that I want to skin the cat of parkour for performance is in the performance art spectrum, doing things like a duration-al action, such as a marathon on a rail, set it out with cool light, make it really cool and inject some of those aspects into the static image. The other end of the spectrum would be the more kind of public audience festival style feel, so something that’s maybe a little bit more accessible. At the moment, I perform a show called Stuntman, where I try to become a stuntman for an hour. We were just due to start touring that next month, unfortunately due to the pandemic, that’s been canceled. I’d say historically, I’ve mainly performed in parkour crossover shows. So parkour with theater, parkour with dance, parkour with a clown suit on, whatever it is.

David: My frustration I get from this is, and there’s going to be some parkour performers that are going to laugh at this, how many times has a director or a call came up to you and you sat down and they’ve got a big pot of funding that maybe you’ve struggled to go after, you get down and they’re like, “Listen, I’ve got a great idea. We’re going to make a parkour performance and it’s going to be about breaking from the 9:00 to 5:00.” I’m like, “Jesus.” The next person calls, “Actually, we’re going to make a parkour performance that’s going to be you breaking out of a suit. We’re going to make a parkour performance about you breaking from the restraints of society.” It’s just base level drivel to me.

[crosstalk 00:06:23] the ocean has been there forever. So yeah, it was a big deal. It was a big deal.

Injury, self-care, recovery [36:23]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Lots of yoga; solid foundation.
  • Moves everyday, some active rest, but never passive. Hanging, brachiation (Ido Portal, David has done his course). Lots of good things on Ido’s blog.
  • Look for experts, people you can learn from.
  • Always trying new and different things, to keep your body moving in different ways.
  • Sometimes you have to be the worst in the room to learn.
  • Find what you’ve practiced the most, then do the opposite.

Contact and further info

To learn more about David’s other projects, you can visit his website (davidbanksartist.com) or follow him on instagram (@davidbanksartist). To learn more about Ukemi and their projects, you can visit ukemi.ninja or follow their instagram (@ukemiproject). You can learn more about the Movement Card (and participate in the project) at mvmnt-card.com.

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